Marathon mid-life crisis

A more unlikely pair of marathon runners would be hard to find. Oh there is nothing about these two that would particularly mark them out from the rest of 37,000 to run the London Marathon on April 26th. It is the partnership that is unusual. Meeting them is like having a pre-match team talk with Laurel and Hardy.

Dave Ward and Jamie Berry are uncle and nephew. Dave, approaching his 50th birthday last year, decided he wanted to give up smoking. “So I decided I’d run the London Marathon,” said Dave. “I wouldn’t be able to smoke then!”

As you spend time with David, you realise that this is a most uncharacteristically simple thought. Every aspect of his training and the races he is about to undertake are investigated and analysed – and agonised over.

Then there is Jamie. Jamie is David’s nephew, who is younger and more athletic, though also a smoker. “We weren’t prepared to let him do it on his own,” he smiles. The ‘we’ is the family, and originally the running team were to have consisted of David’s other two nephews Alex and Robert. But John hurt his back and was forbidden by the doctor to run, Alex has had perpetual knee injuries, and Robert has just been posted with the army to Afghanistan. So Team Fezz is now just the two of them.

Rather than risk not getting through the ballot for the marathon – 200,000 enter each year – they opted to buy a golden ticket, which guarantees you a place, but also requires you to raise £1,500 for a charity of your choice. Dave chose Asthma UK, because his daughter Shannen suffers from the illness. They have devised a competition whereby the closest ticket holder to guess to their finishing times wins £100.

Dave fully admits it was turning fifty that brought on this rush for fitness. “I want to climb Kilimanjaro next year, and this time last year I was all set on doing Everest!” he says. Jamie interjects: “Trouble is, he’s having this midlife crisis and he’s dragging me with him!” Jamie is clearly proud of the progress Dave has made. “When he hit on the idea of doing this he ran on the treadmill for three minutes and collapsed! Now last Sunday he did 14 miles.”

Dave is worried though. He and Jamie are about to tackle their first half-marathon, in Reading, as a prelude to the big day in London. “I keep looking at people’s finishing times, and I get this fear that I come behind the slowest person there. And a little man in my psyche is saying you need to go faster!” He has set himself a goal to finish the half-marathon in two-and-a-half hours, but in setting the target he’s given himself a new worry. Jamie groans: “Instead of just running, Dave analyses why things hurt.” Dave concedes this point. “My initials are DR so I’m a doctor – I have to look at everything!”

For London, he chose as his benchmark the time achieved by Gordon Ramsay, around four hours. “I thought he’s ugly and he swears a lot. I can do that.” But since the realities of winter training, energy-sapping viruses and painful legs hit home he thinks five-and-a-half hours is more realistic, while Jamie is aiming for three-and-a-half hours.

They began their training back in April last year, and followed the programme Asthma UK had given them. But Jamie suffered a stress fracture and a trapped nerve, so they have adapted their regime, mainly using the gym and only road running at weekends.

You can’t help marvelling at the difference in the way uncle and nephew approach this challenge. Dave ribs Jamie for using a sports chiropodist; he has done his own research to find the right shoe, using a wet footprint to analyse his tendency to pronate (the foot rolls inward). While Jamie tackles his training programme in unruffled style, Dave tries new ways to keep up the momentum. “I tried running home from work every day – that’s about eight miles. Well, I did it once, got caught in the dark and I was treading in holes and falling over. That demoralised me.”

A setback brings him back to research: “I’ve discovered I should have Jelly beans when I’m running. They give you carbohydrates straight away, where water or isotonic drinks take 30 mins to get into your body.” (“Yeah but last week you were saying water was the best thing,” says Jamie.) Dave continues: “I must build up the muscles in my calves,” but as if switching hats he says: “But maybe I shouldn’t because I’ll carry more weight.”

The worry, the worry. His mind is obviously in such a whirl you can’t help wondering if it is all worth it. Especially since the smoking ban didn’t last. “Seven weeks after I packed up smoking we had a bit of a crisis in the house and I started. So now I’m a smoking marathon runner at the age of 50!” He assures me he’s going to stop tomorrow – he’s got the patches and is not afraid to use them. “I’ve been told if I can stop smoking between now and London I’ll get round,” he says.

The whole impression is of haphazard project but with its heart in the right place. Dave’s optimism and Jamie’s gentle ribbing is endearing: “I have a daydream when I see me with last year’s champion Martin Lel coming into the Mall together,” says Dave. To which Jamie quips: “You in the ambulance!”

To sponsor Dave and Jamie, see www.justgiving.com/teamfezz.co.uk